Records of Rage

Over the winter of 2014, as Arctic air plunged the American Midwest into its cruelest winter in decades, my mother and I—both Thai immigrants—watched as our homeland’s political troubles reached a new low. In November of the previous year, thousands of civilians started occupying Bangkok’s streets in order to protest the government of then-prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, which attempted to pass an amnesty bill that would acquit a former prime minister—Yingluck’s older brother—of the corruption charges for which he was ousted from office in 2006. The demonstrators were met by zealous counter-protests from Yingluck’s supporters, gun violence that went frequently uninvestigated by authorities, intermittent bomb threats, and mostly condemnation from Western news media, who labeled them political elitists bent on toppling a government that, for all its flaws, was popular among the lower classes and, barring rumors of rampant vote-buying, had been democratically elected. Closer to home, state media portrayed the protestors as rabble-rousers and accused them of harboring weapons. Yet, among the thousands of people who were taking the streets, I had friends and colleagues, and these, I knew, were armed only with the conviction that they marched, despite the dangers, for a better Thailand.

As the winter dragged on and every morning became a struggle to leave the house, I watched as Yingluck resigned and a placeholder government was established; as new elections were scheduled and then boycotted when the opposition called for nothing less than the complete absolution of the interim government and a constitutional reform. The country was frozen in stalemate, and neither side was backing down. Finally, there came a thaw: on May 22, 2014, the military staged a coup—Thailand’s twelfth since 1936—absolving both the protests and the government in a final bid to wipe the slate clean and spare further violence.

Wipe the slate clean. Throughout its modern history, Thailand has run through a seemingly endless and self-engendering cycle of botched elections, controversial governments, violent street demonstrations, and military coups. And contemporary Thai poets have born witness to these chains of events, “recording,” in the words of Phaiboon Wongdesh, “times of rage/throughout the three worlds.” My interests in Thai poetry have always tended towards the classical and courtly, but over that prolonged winter of 2014 and into the flowering months, I couldn’t ignore the poems that Thai poets over the last forty years have “arranged in bright patterns” over our shared political woes.

Of the following poems, the first two were written in response to the events of October 14th, 1976, when demonstrators—many of them university students demanding open elections and a constitutional reform from the dictatorship of the day—clashed with police and military forces. Although they respond to events nearly forty years past, these poems could have been written about the struggles of the present—indeed, they seem almost prophetic. Naowarat Phongphaiboon foresees gunshots “ringing in the city’s midst,” while Phaiboon Wongdesh’s catalogue of natural elements in the traditional style evokes a sense of universal mourning for fallen demonstrators. The third poem, written by Chindana Pinchleo, who is known primarily for her horror novels, uses humor to make a statement about corruption and sexual hypocrisies in Thai society, and takes place in one of Bangkok’s infamous strip clubs.

The text for these poems was taken from an anthology of Thai poetry called Kred Kawee (“Pieces of Poetry”) edited by Eakarat Udomporn (Pathana Suksa Press, 2008).

Noh Anothai
St. Louis, Missouri
June 2014


Merely a Movement
by Naowarat Phongphaiboon (1940-present)1

Merely the movement of a vulture’s wings
beneath a blaze of sun can disperse its heat.
Merely the shiver that runs from leaf to leaf
proclaims the presence of the wind.

Merely a ripple running over its surface
shows the pool water, not a pane of glass.
In eyes glossed-over, a mere glimmer
shows a heart still beating in the chest.

When the chains that hold gates shut are thrashed,
mighty is the clamor of suffering.
Merely a shimmer at the end of a pass
reveals an escape is still possible.

My fists have been clenched until drenched with sweat,
my flesh seared, my blood boiled within.
I have panted and fallen time and again—yet
good it is to have known that taste.

When a hand can still wriggle its fingers,
the strength hidden within is made known;
and when its blade-tips pierce through stone,
then is shown the might of a weed.

For forty years a torpor has held these reaches
and forty million have never stirred.
While soil became sand, wood stone, and all crumbled,
eyes and hearts remained fast asleep.

Birds inhabit the sky, but do not see sky;
in water the fish see water not.
Centipedes have no sense of the dirt they live in
and, to perceive filth, worms have no eyes.

For me disintegration and rot are certain:
birth, death, and utter inertia in due order.
Yet there bursts out of muck and detritus
a thing to be cherished: a lotus flower.

And at last a movement has begun
of grace and beauty, and not of ill.
It may be nebulous now, its form murky,
but at least a movement is taking shape.

When the daring-voiced drums boom forth from temple,
we know another holy day has arrived.
When gunshots ring in the midst of the city—
we know that for victory the people are reaching.


Homage to Heroes
by Phaiboon Wongdesh (?-?)2

The moon droops, stars drop, and birds weep.
Both trees in leaf and trees in flower wilt.
The whole face of heaven is hooded in cloud
and swirls of mist rising muddle the sun.

A towering gloom closes the curtain of air
and, sullied, the water in creeks and canals
and on valley-floors rear over their banks.
The mountains themselves look like they might break.

Grains of rice lie scattered, stripped from stalks
the wind has bent over and lashed about.
—Silence. Not a sound anywhere.
I light my candle, bowing in the dark

before the bones of my heroes.
The candle casts its golden light
as we cast your ash with the moon and stars.
As moist as this water, may your souls be

and float away for the sky’s furthest reach.
Close now, eyes; know trouble no more.
The river of night will not find any peace;
the stream is disturbed by droplets in downpour.

The current oozes away, bearing your remnants
far from the bank for earth’s utmost bourn.
The wind blows; the leaves in mortal hearts quake;
and in that same moment, my candle goes out.

Although it can snuff the golden-bright candle,
the wind cannot blur these stains out of being.
Tonight no sounds are heard whatsoever,
but tomorrow a cry will rise clear to the stars;

the stars light the land while the skies are obscured;
the moon blaze forth when the dark is audacious;
arranging the words poets compose in bright patterns,
recording times of rage throughout the three worlds.

Tonight, although there be no justice,
on the horizon shines a new dawn.
Whoever does ill—commits evils actions—
soon must requite it—must pay it in full.


To Shame
by Chindana Pinchleo (1942-1988)3

I was watching the floorshow when—Oh my…y…y…
that woman turning up the heat over there,
bouncing her breasts, her butt, flashing her thighs,
her eyes taunting me like a girl without care—

she dropkicked shame into the wastebasket,
then lay down and started her body to bare,
hailed as a star by the room’s sudden racket—
but virtue’s standpoint was one of despair.

“My living is honest—have I done something wrong?”
with a straight face, when I asked her, she said.
“But aren’t you ashamed dancing here in a thong?”
The woman shrugged. “If I were, I’d be dead.

I have an old mother; younger siblings, five.
If I didn’t strip to support them, they’d be long gone.
I finished grade 4. Who’d stick by my side?
It’s good enough that I’m not also a whore.

But, even so, though you say I’ve got nerve
to flaunt myself and give everybody a look,
it’s because I either do it or starve
and at least none of us here is a crook.

No, I’m not ashamed—in this day and age,
when corruption’s committed open air.
Even good folk are flaunting it center stage
and when they’re found out, they don’t seem to be scared.

If people like me knew shame, then men would be lonely,
and if men knew shame, they’d probably change their ways.
If even our leaders go on being phoneys,
of whom should a stripper be ashamed?”

1One of Thailand’s most respected living poets, Naowarat Phongphaiboon received a SEA Write award for his collection Merely a Movement in 1980, and was named a “National Artist” in 1992 by Thailand’s Department of Culture.
2Has Wongdesh fallen afoul of some Thai censorship bureau? I cannot find any biographical notes for this man on the internet, and none was given in the anthology used for the translation. This poem appears online in a collection of other October 14th-related poems by Chulalongkorn University, and Wongdesh’s books can be found for sale on Thai used book websites, but the details of his life are a mystery to me. I encourage anyone with more information to contact me.
3Known mostly for her horror stories, Chindana Pinchleo wrote under several pen names in various serials, for which she occasionally also composed poetry.


เพียงความเคลื่อนไหว (Merely a Movement)
โดย เนาวรัตน์ พงษ์ไพบูลย์ (by Naowarat Phongphaiboon)












บวงสรวงวีรชน (Homage to Heroes)
ไพบูลย์ วงษ์เทศ (by Phaiboon Wongdesh)

เดือนต่ำดาวตก นกร้องไห้


แด่ความอาย (To Shame)
จินตนา  ปิ่นเฉลียว (by Chindana Pinchleo)

ดูฟลอร์โชว์โก้แท้ อุแม่เจ้า!
หญิงร้อนเร่าคนนั้น อึ๋ยย์…ขวัญหนี


หล่อนยักไหล่ “ขืนอายอดตายล่ะ





Translator’s Note

Why do I translate? When asked, I often say—it’s because I can’t come up with my own material, which is only half a lie. It’s the same reason I don’t write fiction: I’m terrible at coming up with plots and characters out of thin air or sieving and refashioning them from those in my own life. Likewise, with translation, the material is already in front of me; my task is “merely” to convey it in English. The real answer, though, is far more selfish: I translate because I come across a poem and wish I’d written it; I come across something moving, or funny, or entertaining, and I want to transmit those sensations to other people, other readers, to share something of my own experience with another.

Strangely enough, I did not want to learn Thai growing up; I routinely balked at my mother’s attempts at teaching me to read and write, throwing my spellers to the floor and stomping on them, before eventually growing to appreciate our native language. I also didn’t arrive at the desire to translate Thai literature in any serious manner on my own; instead, it took Robert Fitzgerald’s Odyssey in a high school English class to get me thinking about translation as an art. I began to wonder how I might produce a similar work. Both my ability and desire to translate has thus been the product of nurturing, though frequently vexing, external forces; and translation itself is an art in which you need another person (or, as in my case, many people) to inspire you to produce—not least of all the original authors you translate. It’s a collaborative act.

Publications like Lunch Ticket are an essential part in furthering such collaboration; by reading and publishing works in translation as well as multi-language texts, they create a nurturing atmosphere for art forms so frequently overlooked and make it possible for them to be transmitted to new minds and new readers as well. Thus, when I think of translation, I think of legacy: of handing things of value down (or over) from one language to another, from one person to another. As a translator, I thank Lunch Ticket for supporting that legacy.

Noh Anothai

Photo: Christopher Fleck

Noh Anothai was a Fulbright scholar in Bangkok between 2011-12. In that time, he hosted cultural events and translated programs for Thailand’s Ministry of Culture and College of Dramatic Arts. He has also written poems for the First Book Project, which benefits underprivileged Thai students. He has work forthcoming in The Raintown Review.


Five Poems

Aesop’s Language

The language of Aesop eludes me,
and it’s too late to be taught a new tongue;
whether they’re villains, reprobates, or robbers,
I’m used to calling the powers
that be—with no provisos, no thought
for rank or title—by their actual names.
I won’t thin complicity among the many,
or inflate an individual shame.

Passer-by, be advised: give me a wide berth!
Only your feet now can save you.
For it is not the earth’s verdict
I’m calling down here—it is God’s.
When the defense and D.A. conspire
together, one witness gathers Himself
to judge: see His face flame with righteous ire,
see His robes effulgent with truth.

From the tree of earthly fear I eat no seeds,
from the waters of fright I’ve not drunk,
for this is Caesar’s portion I spurn.
I’ve filled my belly with other things.
So you, little whimperer, flee now!
Hightail it out of here, make haste,
lest animals swathed in sermon silk attack.
Your heels will feel the hot breath of beasts.


Every Day

Each and every day, save weekends and holidays,
when there’s no reason or special occasion
to leave my apartment and head downtown,
the same underground train—racing at insane speeds, its
unbearable rattling and grinding, screeching

and shrieking, clanging and clawing that’s fit
to flay my eardrums to the bone—carries us past
the exact spot between two stations, Avtozavodskaya
and Pavelstskaya, where a friend, not my nearest
or dearest, but a quiet man and loving father,

the kind that’s daily more endangered, always willing
to go drinking and a book-lover to boot,
the kind whose hard work never won him a penny,
Borya Geliebter (speak his name in your prayers, ye who live!),
was blown to bits in that explosion on the sixth

of February, in the two thousand and fourth year
of our Lord, on a Friday, at thirty-two minutes
past eight, as he was commuting in the morning
rush hour, without the slightest notion that he—
the poor guy, just fifty-four days shy

of his forty-third birthday—was slated to land
(oh senseless fate!) in tragedy’s messy center; and then
a host of thoughts comes into my head, from furious
curses—“Let those who gave this sordid order,
and those who (aware of their actions) still acted,

find no peace in this life or the next;
whether they rest in cold graves or hot beds may they
get no response, for a special retribution awaits their souls!”—
to humble thoughts of heaven’s hidden works,
which reason can’t fathom nor human dimensions measure,

since our births as men, our lives and ends,
reside in the Creator’s hands, who always calls
his blessed back with “Blessed be those beloved to me!”—
to vague ruminations on things foreboding:
how, if the philosopher of the common task is correct

and the resurrection requires numerical data, here’s where
you’ll find it, thus proving (despite a certain thinker’s bitter claim)
that after Auschwitz and the Gulag, after bloody wars
and revolutions, after Hiroshima, Baghdad and New York, there can be poetry…
but what kind? Who’s to say, maybe this kind right here.


In Memory of East Prussia


Everything here’s alien: storks in their nests—
habit led each one here—
the everyday earth, the air’s everyday breath,
++++++ithe everyday water.

Formed by some separate kind of god
there’s this heaven, the fields sliced just
right, and a sun to scorch these winding roads
++++++iand kick up their dust.

Here the roosters sing off key, crickets
chirr improperly, and strange is the screech
of foliage, growing thickest
++++++ion oak, lime, or birch branch.

Built by bellicose Teutons,
an antique castle’s a cast-wax skull.
However much its emptiness saddens
++++++iyou, it’ll never again be full.

Of everything around me, seen and unseen, the one
deep law cannot be known—
so too did barbarians, astride Rome’s ruins,
++++++ithink everything alien.


The ruin’s tongue is unintelligible:
the Livonian’s no longer around—
these countless lacunae stand out,
bright against the black background.

Both first sketch and final signature
emerge from under the paint—
sad denouement that hunts
you out, no matter what you want.

On the orphaned pedestal
falls a lone shadow;
There are finer points and details
we’re too lazy to dig through.

Cobwebs now cover
the pond’s dusty mirror;
as a mother mourns her sons,
so the sons their father.


“As for the truth that one day we’ll die,
the trees here wept clear amber,
back when nothing yet could portend
that those called out—i.e. you and I—
from the dark ether on God’s orders
would suit up for living…” The elegy’s begin-

ning is severed—but to prolong it, ah!
my head’s inspiration-less,
and I’ve not endeavored to drag line after line
for some time now. Gently a wave—
the Golden Fleece’s curly heiress—
floats the fossilized tears to the coastline.


For how many years has this clock-
face’s 5:30 been rusted fast—
++++++itime’s left the station.
Chronicler! Take up your coal and chalk
to mark the day more attentively. Dab your brow sweat.
++++++iAll other options

elude you. So quickly now, note this
little testament—just take it down, don’t
++++++itry to fathom it.
For the seagull’s shrill voice
greets everything that’s in the earth, or
++++++iby the earth begot.


The sandy hills of the Curonian Spit,
seeded with dragon’s teeth, cleave
the sea’s elastic lap in two turbulent
halves; the Spit’s been seeded.

As usual the men arose bristling.
They awoke to discord, then strained
to straighten, like gnarled pines striving
against the frenzied elements; now they remain,

a thin strip of woods, overcast and sullen.
So it was, and so it shall be.
My blood freezes; I realize we’re kin.
I too was sown senselessly.


A bridge, nowhere-bound,
+++ispans a loathsome stream;
the waters ceased their babble,
+++ifeigning lethargy.

Not a single trail remains
+++isince there’s nothing to decide.
This spreading meadow’s still green,
+++iuncut by time’s sure scythe.

The shades take their leisure
+++iwith picnics in that vale;
wherever they gambol
+++ithey trample spring petals.

Memory and oblivion—two
+++ishores—make one.
I’ve not crossed the bridge,
+++ibut linger in-between.


An old photographer wanders, aluminum
tripod in tow, raking the beach vainly for one
who’d wish herself pictured against a horizon
of belted pines or crags of sand, but—as if to spite him—

no one’s to be found; nobody needs anything—
not the countless tourists, each equipped
with Polaroids and Kodaks—and it’s no staggering
aggravation, though regret, nonetheless, seeps

in. Shoeless, taciturn, he passes the trash-heaps
of people, dividing his feet between sand and surf.
He’s filled with sorrow, which is my sorrow,
leaving no tracks as he goes forth.

Of all gilded Apollo’s adopted sons
surely you’re the last and most beloved!
Abandon that tripod and photograph heaven—
the sea, the sun, radiating from its altitude!


“You Take Root in Earth”

You take root in earth; I trot blithely by,
humming some happy tune
++++++i(all by my lonesome) about how,
as your gold leaves fall, you grow
more irresistible, though you’re neither
++++++idead nor living.

You seek help, little misery’s daughter,
but what help, poor dear, might I provide?
++++++iThe death pangs attending
your final hour are just like high art, though
they refuse to be captured in sculpture,
++++++ispeech, pigment, or song.

You dwindle down to nothing,
while those buds, which bring no good
++++++ito fruition, sit fallow—
Are you the fig our Savior damned,
or the walnut that, well before Christ’s birth,
++++++iOvid cursed in a split verse?


“A Many-Throated, Many-Mawed, Many-Tongued Rumble”

A many-throated, many-mawed, many-tongued rumble
resounds, coming nigh, soaring high, casting wide,
to infuse each soul with horror, wrap it in fear like a shroud,
setting all, from the dead to the unborn, atremble:
What’s happening? What’s coming? What’s gone?

And the cosmos’ uncountable creatures now feel
a light on their transparent skin, transmitted
from an immutable mote, so tiny even a keen eye
can’t pinpoint it in the maelstrom of faces and events—
but it holds our questions’ answers, and our hope.


Языком эзоповым не владея

Языком эзоповым не владея,
потому что поздно учить язык,
нечестивца, вора или злодея
власть имущих – собственными привык
называть именами без оговорок,
невзирая на звания и чины,
сопричастности не деля на сорок,
не преувеличивая вины.

Обходи меня стороной, прохожий!
ибо только ноги тебя спасут, –
нет, не человечий на них, но Божий
постоянно я призываю суд,
где защитник и обвинитель слиты
воедино, свидетель – и тот один,
пламенеют гневом Его ланиты,
свет сияет истины от седин.

Я со древа страха земного зерен
не вкушал и не пил боязни вод
кесарю назло, как бы ни был черен
или бел, – иным наполнял живот,
посему, дрожащий, как можно прытче
от меня беги, не жалея пят,
а не то, напялив личины притчи,
за спиною хищники засопят.


Каждый божий день, кроме выходных и праздничных

Каждый божий день, кроме выходных и праздничных,
когда без надобности особой смысла нет
из дому выдвигаться в сторону центра,
с невыносимым скрежетом, скрипом, сипом,
визгом и лязгом, царапающим и дерущим насквозь

барабанные перепонки, на сумасшедшей скорости
поезд подземный привычно проносит меня
мимо того самого места, между “Автозаводской”
и “Павелецкой”, где моего приятеля, не из близких,
тихого человека и семьянина, каких ещё поискать,

собутыльника мирового и страстного книжника,
ни гроша не стяжавшего честным себе трудом,
Борю Гелибтера (помяни в молитвах имя его, живущий!)
разорвало в куски во время взрыва шестого
февраля две тыщи четвёртого года от Рождества

Христова, в пятницу, в тридцать две минуты девятого,
едущего на работу в утренний час пик,
не подозревая, что ему, бедолаге, за пятьдесят четыре
дня до сорокатрёхлетия в самое средоточье
угодить (о случайность бессмысленная!) суждено,

и приходят мне в голову то проклятия гневные:
“Тем, кто отдал, не дрогнув, страшный приказ, и тем,
кто, сознавая и ведая, что творит, исполнил,
пусть не будет покоя ни на том, ни на этом свете,
ни в холодных могилах, ни в жарких постелях телам

их не спится, а душам готовится кара сугубая!” —
то смиренные мысли о том, что непостижим
человеческому разумению небесный промысел тайный
и к нему подступаться с мерой земной бесполезно,
что рождение смертных, жизнь и кончина в руках

у Творца, всех блаженных Своих обратно зовущего:
“Да пребудет благословен возлюбленный мной!” —
то предчувствия смутные, мол, если общего дела
философ окажется прав и точнейших данных
для грядущего воскрешения понадобится цифирь,

можно будет её почерпнуть отсюда, и в опровержение
горьких слов иного мыслителя доказать,
что поэзия после Освенцима и ГУЛАГа, кровавых
революций и войн, Хиросимы, Багдада, Нью-Йорка
может быть, но какой? — кто знает, — возможно, такой.




Здесь все чужое: аисты на гнездах,
привычкой занесенные сюда,
обычная земля, обычный воздух,
++++++iобычная вода.

Сотворены другим каким-то богом
и небеса, и дольние поля,
и солнце, по извилистым дорогам
++++++iпылящее, паля.

Здесь петухи поют не так, не этак
кузнечики стрекочут, странен скрип
густой листвой отягощенных веток
++++++iдубов, берез и лип.

Основанный воинственным тевтоном
старинный замок – череп восковой.
как ни тоскуй о безвременьи оном,
++++++iне сганет головой.

Всего, что зримо мне и что незримо,
таинственный закон непостижим, –
так варвару среди развалин Рима
++++++iказалось все чужим.


Язык руин не внятен:
ливон не вышел вон, –
немало белых пятен
легло на черный фон.

Проступят из-под краски
и надпись и чертеж, –
трагической развязки
дождешься – ждешь не ждешь.

Стоит на пьедестале
осиротелом тень;
в подробности, в детали
вникать, вдаваться лень.

Затянет паутина
зерцало озерца,
но матери без сына,
что сыну без отца.


“О том, что мы когда-нибудь умрем,
деревья здесь рыдали янтарем,
когда еще ничто не предвещало,
что вызванные из небытия
велением Господним – ты и я –
сберемся жить…” – Элегии начало

оборвано, – ее продлить, увы!
нет вдохновения, из головы
не тщусь тянуть по строчке и подавно,
пока выносит на берег волна,
курчавая наследница руна
златого, плач окаменелый плавно.


Полшестого на проржавелом
циферблате который год, –
++++++iвремя выбыло.
Летописец! углем и мелом
дни, со лба утирая пот,
++++++iибо выбора

нет, прилежнее отмечай-ка,
не пытаясь понять, внемли
++++++iзавещаньице, –
то приветствует криком чайка
все, что в землю иль из земли


Усеяны густо зубами дракона
песчаные горы на Куршской косе,
делящей бурливое надвое лоно
упругого моря, – усеяны все.

В урочное время по всем косогорам,
разбужены распрей, они прорастут,
согбенными соснами встав под напором
стихии безумной, – останутся тут

полоскою леса, угрюмой и хмурой.
Так было, так будет, – из жара да в дрожь
при мысли: на них несуразной фигурой,
на прошлых и будущих, сам я похож.


Мост, ведущий в никуда
+++iчрез ручей смердящий:
говорливая вода
+++iпритворилась спящей.

Ни тропинки никакой,
+++iибо жребий брошен, –
луг, уверенной рукой
+++iвремени не кошен.

В праздник там, на том лугу,
+++iвеселятся тени,
разбивая на бегу
+++iчашечки растений.

Память и забвенье – два
+++iберега – едины:
мост не перейден едва
+++iмной до середины.


Старый фотограф с треножником из дюрали
бродит по пляжу тщетно в поисках тех,
кто пожелал бы снимок на фоне дали
Бельта ли, гор ли песчаных, но – как на грех –

никого: никому ничего не надо, –
отдыхающих тыщи снабжены
кодаками, поляроидами – не досада
неимоверной, но сожаление – глубины.

Бос, молчалив, минуя свалку людскую,
он по песку одной, по волне другой,
полон тоской, которой и я тоскую,
не оставляя следов, ступает ногой.

Из сыновей приемных златого Феба
самый последний – самый любимый ты!
брось свой треножник, фотографируй небо,
море и солнце, блещущее с высоты.


Ты в землю врастаешь, – я мимо иду

Ты в землю врастаешь, – я мимо иду,
веселую песенку на ходу
++++++iсебе под нос напевая
про то, как – теряя златые листы –
мне кажешься неотразимою ты,
++++++iни мертвая, ни живая.
Ты помощи просишь, страдания дочь, –
мне нечем тебе, бедняжка, помочь:
++++++iтвои предсмертные муки
искусству возвышенному сродни,
хоть невпечатлимы ни в красках они,
++++++iни в камне, ни в слове, ни в звуке.
Сойдешь на нет, истаешь вот-вот, –
благой не приносящие плод
++++++iпускай не расклеятся почки,
поскольку ты – смоковница та,
которую проклял еще до Христа
++++++iОвидий в раздвоенной строчке.


Гул многоустый, многоязычный, многогортанный

Гул многоустый, многоязычный, многогортанный,
вширь раздаваясь, вглубь проникая, ввысь устремляясь,
души живущих ужасом полнит, страхом объемлет,
в трепет приводит всех от умерших до нерождённых:
что происходит? что исчезает? что возникает?

Вся во Вселенной тварь ощущает плотью сквозною
проникновенный свет, исходящий из ниоткуда,
из неподвижной точки ничтожной, зоркому глазу
неразличимой в круговороте лиц и событий,
но и ответы в нём на вопросы есть и надежда.

Translators’ Note

Our collaborative translations began as a novelty but became an extension of family. We started making them in 2009 when Anne—in Moscow on an NEH Collaborative Research Fellowship for three months—met Maxim Amelin, an “archaist innovator” of a poet, whose clever neologisms and classical leanings deserve to be better known in English. A scholar of Soviet literature by training, Anne had only ever translated prose. A poet and translator of Latin, Derek had no experience with Russian verse. And yet we were both game for a challenge, newly married and eager, we suppose, to attempt a union of literature to follow our union of love. So we set to work, slowly carrying one Amelin poem after another into English, using—in Jascha Kessler’s description of collaborative translation—a “method, which is really quite simple, and hardly a method at all.” Anne picked the poems, wrote the cribs, and glossed terms, tropes, and themes, festooning the poems like Spanish moss. Derek massaged the whole packet back into sonorous verse. And then we’d talk, and talk, and talk some more.

If this setup sounds like a test of marital communication, it was, at least for a time. While the Soviet satirical duo Il’f and Petrov, much translated by Anne, could complain that “writing together isn’t twice as easy, it’s ten times as hard,” how much more difficult is translating together, when there are three minds in the mix? Still, collaboration’s challenges are little different from those faced by any translator translating alone: what’s the line between sound and sense? There’s always going to be some nuance or artful consonance that will vanish, and as Joanna Trzeciak recently wrote, “translation is the art of choosing one’s regrets.” If we, as collaborative translators, are bound to admit and explain those regrets, we’re at least buoyed by a partner who comprehends and empathizes with the loss. And the final product benefits from two attention spans and two sets of eyes. To put it another way, we are the team of relay sprinters who’ve snuck into a marathon, pacing ourselves against life’s other exhaustions. In 2010, we became parents of a son. Now four years old, he speaks both Russian and English, hearing the former from his mother, the latter from his dad. If these translations are for anyone other than Amelin, they are surely for him.

D_Mong_headshotDerek Mong is the author of Other Romes (Saturnalia Books, 2011); the poetry editor at Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, & Translation; and a doctoral candidate at Stanford where he’s finishing a dissertation on marriage in the lives and afterlives of Whitman and Dickinson. The recipient of fellowships and awards from the University of Louisville, the University of Wisconsin, The Missouri Review, and the Hopwood Program, he now lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and young son. His poems, translations, and essays have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Court Green, and (most recently) the anthology 99 Poems for the 99 Percent. Last summer, he and his wife—Anne O. Fisher—published the first English language interview with Maxim Amelin at Jacket2. He can be reached at

A_Fisher_headshotAnne O. Fisher’s translations of Ilf and Petrov’s novels The Twelve Chairs and The Little Golden Calf, as well as their 1936 travelogue Ilf and Petrov’s American Road Trip, have been widely praised. She has also translated the prose of Margarita Meklina and Leonid Tishkov, and—with husband and co-translator Derek Mong—the poetry of Maxim Amelin. Their Amelin translations, supported by an NEA translation grant, have appeared or are forthcoming in The Dallas Review, Cerise Press, Big Bridge Magazine: An Anthology of Twenty-First Century Russian Poetry, and Chtenia/Readings. Fisher’s translations have also appeared, or will appear, in Cabinet Magazine, Squaring the Circle: Winners of the Debut Prize for Fiction, and Flash Fiction International. She has a PhD from the University of Michigan, and now lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and son. Her current favorite Russian children’s book is Vitaliy Bianki’s Сказки о животных (Fairy Tales about Animals).

M_Amelin_headshotPoet, critic, editor, and translator, Maxim Amelin is among the last generation of Russian poets to grow up in the Soviet Union. The recipient of numerous national awards, including the Moscow Reckoning Award, the Anti-Booker, the Novyi Mir Prize, and the Bunin Prize, his work has been translated into over a dozen languages. In 2013 Amelin won the prestigious Solzhenitsyn Prize for his contributions to Russian poetry. The author of three books of poetry, including Cold Odes (Холодные оды, 1996), Dubia (1999), and The Horse of the Gorgon (Конь Горгоны, 2003), as well as a collection of prose and poems, Bent Speech (Гнутая речь, 2011), he is also an accomplished translator of Pindar, Catullus, Homer, and other ancient and contemporary poets. He currently lives in Moscow. He is a member of the Russian PEN-Club and editor-in-chief at OGI, a leading publisher of contemporary literature.

Among the Trobairitz

Lady Maria,

+++++++++++ivalue and valiance,
joy and beauty and intelligence,
+++++ihonor, worth, and hospitality,
noble speech and pleasing company,
fine, sweet face and merry countenance,
+++++igentle gaze and loving glance—
all these, in you, and not the trickster’s art,
they draw me toward you with an honest heart.

I pray you, if it please you, fine amours
+++++iand jouissance and sweet humility
may bring the solace I’ve been longing for,
+++++iand grant me, lovely lady, if it please
you, the gift from which I’d draw all hope and happiness:
+++++iin you lie all my love and lust and liking,
through you I drink up all I taste of gladness,
+++++iand for you I’ve spent many hours sighing.

+++++iAnd since your valiance and beauty elevate
you over other ladies—none surpasses you—
I pray you, if it please you, in song I dedicate
+++++ito you:
+++++++++++iDon’t love a wooer who’s untrue!

Lovely lady, whom worth and joy exalt,
+++++iand noble speech, to you I send my song,
+++++++++++ifor gaiety and gladness are in you,
and all good gifts a man might choose among.


Na Maria, pretz e fina valors,
e.l joi e.l sen e la fina beutatz,
e l’aculhir e.l pretz e las onors,
e.l gent parlar e l’avinen solatz,
e la dous car’ e la gaja cuendansa,
e.l dous esgart e l’amoros semblan
que son en vos, don non avetz engansa,
me fan traire vas vos ses cor truan.

Per que vos prec, platz que fin’ amors
e gausiment e dous umilitatz
me posca far ab vos tan de socors,
que mi donetz, bella domna, platz,
so don plus ai d’aver joi e ‘speransa;
car en vos ai mon cor e mon talan,
e per vos ai tot so qu’ai d’alegransa
e per vos vauc mantas vetz sospiran.

E car beutatz e valor vos enansa
sobra totas, qu’un es denan,
vos prec, platz, per so es onransa,
que non ametz entendidor truan.

Bella domna, cui pretz e joi enansa
e gen parlar, a vos mas coblas man,
car en vos es gajess’ e alegranssa,
e tot lo ben qu’om en domna deman.

Translator’s Note

I am interested in the original song less for its literary merit than for the fact that it composed by a trobairitz for a lady—in other words, from one woman to another. Although Bieiris’ original, and also my translation, may seem at first glance to be nothing more than a catalogue of attractive personality traits, these were the attributes which the troubadours and trobairitz deemed essential to the art of fin’amors, or perfect love (a phrase I’ve rendered, in modern franglais, as “fine amours”).

Are these verses a love song? Perhaps. Many scholars tend to view the poetry of the troubadours and the trobairitz as a literary means toward increasing the writer’s social and economic prestige, rather than as “authentic” expressions of romantic or erotic feeling. But I’m inclined to think—though this may be merely a personal hope—that this particular song was sincere.

I’ve translated the Old Occitan gausiment not as “rejoicing” or “enjoyment” but as a loan-word from French, “jouissance,” which corresponds more exactly to the religious—and sexual—ecstatic connotations of the original. In the case of the Occitan om, which can mean either “one” (like the Modern French on) or “man” (like the Modern French homme), I have opted for the latter translation because I would like to draw your attention to the tension between, on the one hand, the traditional masculinity of language, and, on the other, the challenge which lesbian/women’s poetry poses to that tradition.

Editions of the original may be found in Meg Bogin’s anthology The Women Troubadours (1988), together with Bogin’s facing-page literal translation, and in Oskar Schultz-Gora’s Die Provenzalischen Dichterinnen: Biographien und Texte (1975). Bogin lists the poem’s manuscript source as Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Fr. 15211.

It’s difficult to write about translation when so much has already been said. I find myself resorting to adages and stock phrases: the notorious traduttore traditore, the one-liner about poetry mis-attributed to Robert Frost, or the idealistic (and exaggerated) claim that every human act, from breathing in air to placing one foot in front of the other, is an act of translation. And this is what drives me to translate in the first place: there is nothing new to be said under the sun. Why write when you can cite? Why compose when you can translate?

I would like to think that I follow Gayatri Spivak in pursuing an “intimate reading,” a “surrender to the text” that is “more erotic than ethical” and in which the self “loses its boundaries” and comes into close contact with something uncanny, something else both self and Other. If the Author is dead, then the translator may be compared to a medium channeling her spirit. (Sometimes, when I’m working late into the night, I take this comparison literally.) When translation becomes simply the breaking and re-making of a text in my own idiom, I know it is time to move on.

Samantha Pious is a Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Some of her translations have appeared in Lunch Ticket’s Amuse-BoucheDoublespeak, ConstructionGertrude, and Rowboat.

Bieiris de Romans was a trobairitz (a woman troubadour) who composed at least one lyric in Old Occitan, presumably during the first half of the thirteenth century in the south of France. About her life or identity, nothing else is known.